Best Practices in Hiring – Applications and Interviews

With Michigan’s unemployment hovering around 11%, there are a lot of candidates seeking jobs. If there ever were a time to have disciplined hiring practices, it is now. Indeed, well positioned companies are always seeking qualified candidates, and mistakes in hiring are magnified in an environment of low corporate profits and layoffs. The following are some best practices in hiring that are helpful to follow in any economic environment.

The Employment Application
Employment applications should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure legal compliance. In Michigan, it is unlawful to seek information regarding the applicant’s religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, marital status, or family status. It is important to keep these prohibitions in mind throughout the hiring process.

More subtle forms of potential discrimination are also prohibited. For example, asking if an applicant is a U.S. citizen might improperly elicit information about the applicant’s ethnicity. Employers should instead ask if the applicant is legally able to work in the United States. Questions regarding whether an applicant has a disability and inquiries as to the nature of the disability are also improper. Instead, employers should ask if the applicant is able, with or without accommodation, to perform the duties of the position that he or she seeks. It may be beneficial to have a job description that states the essential job functions of the position and the minimal qualifications for entry to that position for this purpose.

It is also helpful to require candidates to complete an employment application even if they have provided a resume, as employment applications often provide a more complete picture of an applicant’s employment history and qualifications. Look for gaps in employment and have the candidate fill in all of the gaps.

Background Checks and Pre-Employment Waivers
First, determine if the job warrants a background check. If so, some types of background checks might require the employer to obtain waivers from applicants. These include, but are not limited to, consumer reports, motor vehicle records checks, and drug screening. In addition, former employers may require a signed waiver before providing references or prior employment records. Keep in mind that, under Title VII, a refusal to hire on the basis of the information obtained via background checks must be job related and that a criminal conviction alone cannot be the basis for refusal to hire. Also, pursuant to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the employer, before taking any adverse action based in whole or in part on a consumer report, must provide to the applicant: 1) a copy of the report; and 2) a description in writing of the rights of the employee including contact information of the Credit Reporting Agency that provided the consumer report. The Fair Credit Reporting Act defines a consumer report to include “any written, oral or other communication of any information by a credit reporting agency bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit capacity, credit standing, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living which is used or expected to be used or collected in whole or in part for the purpose of serving as a factor in establishing the consumer’s eligibility for credit or insurance to be used primarily for personal, family or household purposes, or employment purposes.”

The Interview
Many employers have shifted from the traditional interview model to what is commonly referred to as a behavioral or situational interview model. That is, rather than simply asking how an applicant is “qualified for the job,” a situational interviewer might ask how the applicant would go about solving a particular job-related problem. These types of questions may provide more targeted insight as to the applicant’s ability to succeed in a specific position. However, whether traditional or situational, interviewers should ask standardized questions, avoiding questions that are not directly related to the position and the candidate’s ability to perform the job.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, LISTEN! Remember, this is perhaps your only opportunity to learn about the candidate prior to extending an offer.

Peter Camps is an attorney at Nemeth Burwell P.C., a 2008 winner of Metro Detroit’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For.